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General Assembly approves stormwater fee for nine counties

Despite a Republican filibuster attempt in the Senate, the General Assembly successfully passed legislation that would implement a stormwater pollution fee to raise revenue to cleanup the Chesapeake Bay.

Approved by the Senate and House of Delegates minutes before the end of the legislative session, the bill requires nine counties and Baltimore City to establish a watershed protection and restoration program.

Local governments would charge property owners a fee based on the amount of pavement on their property. It would be at the jurisdiction of the local governments to determine the size of those fees.

Counties and municipalities would take various steps, such as planting trees, to reduce watershed pollution caused by stormwater runoff.

Sponsored by Del. Tom Hucker, D-Montgomery, survival of the bill was questionable as it became bogged down in the Senate on Monday. Debate on the bill was delayed several times as the Senate considered various conference committee reports on the budget package.

Pipkin offers dozen amendments

Republicans, who have labeled the bill a $6 billion tax on counties based on the projected funding needed over 13 years, launched prolonged debate of the bill by proposing a number of unfriendly amendments.

Senate Republican Leader E.J. Pipkin proposed 12 amendments, none of which were adopted. Pipkin said the bill was essentially an attempt to tax rain water.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, argued Republicans should like the bill, noting it gave power back to the counties to determine the fee and held them responsible for pollution caused at the local level.

Democrats broke the filibuster by approving a motion to limit floor debate to 20 minutes per side. The chamber approved the bill 33-14 to applause from the gallery, which was quickly stifled by Senate President Mike Miller who was eager to move onto other issues on the agenda.

Although Republicans were unsuccessful in their attempts to amend the bill, an amendment proposed by Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, was adopted by the Senate. Raskin’s amendment excluded properties owned by state or local governments and volunteer fire departments from being subject to the fee. Raskin argued the amendment was part of the “public-private principal” and that it did not make sense for the government to tax itself.

With only 20 minutes remaining before adjournment, the amended bill was sent to the House, which approved the legislation 91-45. Gov. Martin O’Malley is expected to sign the legislation into law.

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